Every tax is a pay cut.  Every tax cut is a pay raise.
Citizens for Limited Taxation

New FIMBY leader eyes strategy shift Sunday, March 28, 2004
Benjamin Gedan The Boston Globe
Seeking broader support for its antidevelopment agenda, the umbrella organization FIMBY has turned to a new leader as it attempts a return to relevance.

Veteran town official Ned Price, a 67-year-old former math professor at Framingham State College, has been tapped to replace Larry Schmeidler, founder and chairman of the group, which stands for Framingham Is My Back Yard.

FIMBY enjoyed early success after its founding in 2001, getting five of its 13 articles passed at Town Meeting that spring, including a hard-won resolution opposing the opening of a South Side methadone clinic.

But it suffered a setback the next year when Town Meeting failed to pass any of its eight proposed articles.

Fearing irrelevance after ultimately losing battles to keep the methadone clinic out of Framingham and mandate a broader town budget process, the group's executive board last month turned to Price, a political operative who serves on two local boards, to rejuvenate the membership and help focus its broad agenda.

"When the same person is speaking all the time, people stop listening," said board member Andrea Carr-Evans.  "It is a concern."

Schmeidler, 76, bristled at the suggestion that the leadership shuffle represented strategic maneuvering.

In its official announcement, FIMBY said its founder, having suffered a mild stroke last July, was stepping down for health reasons.  It said Schmeidler would remain on the board, and undertake "special assignments" for the group he helped create at a gathering three years ago at First United Methodist Church of Framingham.

"It's not saying we failed so we need to get new blood in there," Schmeidler said.

But Price's appointment could signal a marked policy change for the group, which Schmeidler himself said lacked momentum.  Unlike his predecessor, Price said, he is not a fiscal conservative.  He is expressing little interest in FIMBY's alliance with the Framingham Taxpayers Association, a conservative watchdog group.  (FIMBY still voices support for the group in its official platform.)

Price also criticized the group for backing too many losing causes, saying it undermined FIMBY's credibility.  And the campaign against the methadone clinic, a longstanding passion of Schmeidler's, was overkill, Price said.

"They developed the reputation for taking on too many battles at the same time," Price said.  "Maybe we ought to pick our spots more carefully."

Carr-Evans said the group has been demonized by critics as obstructionist, in part due to its alliance with Save Our Towns, a regional residents' group that has been fighting a large residential project proposed for the Framingham-Wayland line.  After its defeat in 2002, she said, the local news media largely dismissed the organization.

Over three years, Framingham Town Manager George P. King Jr. said, he has met with few, if any, FIMBY members.  He said he was unfamiliar with its work.

"I'm not exactly sure what they're trying to get done as an organization," he said.

Selectwoman Ginger Esty, a supporter, said FIMBY had not been in retreat in recent years.

The group's goal has always been to see passage of its proposed articles, she said, citing its crowning achievement -- persuading Town Meeting in 2001 to replace an above-ground sewage pumping station on Edgewater Drive.

"Power groups that are in place would not like to see the success of something like this," she said, referring to elected officials and developers.  "It spreads fear."

Francis X. Reilly, a FIMBY board member who has authored at least 15 articles for the group, said he considered the 2002 Town Meeting a success for having publicly aired unpopular issues.  The organization has also helped local groups navigate town government, he said.

"The point was to bring them to Town Meeting," he said.  "Let every group have their time in court."

But Reilly, 77, acknowledged a "backlash" against FIMBY's varied proposals.  And Schmeidler, a sometimes abrasive orator, said he was "sharply disappointed" with the result, including the failure of a measure to reconsider costly health care benefits for municipal employees.

Price met with board members and co-chairwoman Elizabeth Stone for the first time earlier this month to discuss his agenda.

In an interview, he said the group had proposed no articles for Town Meeting in April but that it would soon redouble efforts to curb development, focusing first on a proposed 150-unit senior housing project for the Nobscot neighborhood.

Despite what he called the group's reputation for selfishness and intolerance, Price said he would also continue to fight so-called big-box retail development, as well as low-income housing and the expansion of social services that attract sex offenders and drug addicts.

"All of these groups do an excellent job of networking," he said, calling FIMBY a crucial counterweight to "great nonprofit networks," and the local Chamber of Commerce.  "We would like to have a presence in Town Meeting."

Send comments to: hjw2001@gmail.com